Sutherland Constabulary – Constable Alexander Ross 1904
Image by conner395
2,000 views on 19th December 2013
1,000 views on 1st October 2013
PROLOGUE: Inspector George Bridgeford of the Sutherland Constabulary does NOT feature in this pair of photographs – but I thought he deserved mention at the outset, as he does feature in the following story.
Also, on reflection, it struck me that this story takes one back from policing of today right back to the earliest days, in only four “generations (Mr Bridgeford 1868-1904, Alex Ross 1904-1937, Kenneth Ross 1930s to 1977, and my own career 1973-2003 and still with some law enforcement connection, such as through the pipe band)
NOW THE STORY:
George Bridgeford had been involved in the “New Police” in Scotland since its inception – when he had enlisted in the Aberdeenshire Constabulary back in 1858. Then, as Deputy Chief Constable of the Sutherland constabulary (since 1862) he had seen much, and his memoirs would have been a good read, had he written them. Aged only 27 years upon his arrival in Sutherland, he would go on to serve no less than 42 years in the Sutherland Constabulary, finally retiring in November 1904 – when he reached the age of 69.
He had seen the gold fever in full swing in the Strath of Kildonan, the rise and fall of the Herring Fishery at Helmsdale, the railway arrive in Sutherland and pass on through northwards, and of course the land agitation which had greatly affected the Crofting counties. In that time he would see off three Chief Constables, and had played a most active part in the hiring of recruits to the force. What he probably never realised was one of last duties in the job would be also historically significant too – albeit nearly 60 years ahead.
To explain – The last man appointed to the Sutherland Force before Mr Bridgeford retired was the man in the photographs, namely Alexander Ross, a Carpenter from Lairg. He joined the Force on 18 July 1904 when 20 years of age. After initial training at Headquarters in Dornoch (doubtless under the tutelage of Mr Bridgeford) he was posted to the nearby village of Embo in August 1904.
The photograph of PC Ross wearing the kepi (also known as tshako or pill-box) hat was taken by an Inverness photographer, and I wonder whether it was taken in a travelling studio, as the opening of the railway line to Dornoch (and Embo – Granny’s Heilan’ Hame) had occurred in 1902 and the area was already a popular tourist resort. He is wearing collar number 12 (see below re numbering). Were it not for the fact that I know who he is, and what force I would have said he was a member of the Inverness-shire Constabulary, as the uniform and insignia is identical to that latter force at that time. Hardly, surprising that, as the Chief of Inverness-shire (Alexander McHardy, since 1882) had been previously Chief constable of Sutherland, – and the Chief Constable of Sutherland (Malcolm Macdonald, since 1887) had previously been an Inspector in Inverness-shire. Both chiefs were very interested in Highland sports so they clearly dropped in on each other to share ideas!
Anyway, back to the story. In March 1905 PC Ross moved to Helmsdale and while there he passed his St Andrew’s Ambulance Certificate in First Aid, in March 1906. In the photograph of PC Ross wearing the flat cap (taken in Helmsdale by the local photographer) he is proudly displaying the First Aid arm badge. As he moved to Rogart in June that same year, we can safely assume that such photograph was taken in 1906. (Mr MacDonald had died unexpectedly in February 1906, and his successor was another Inverness-shire man, Supt Hugh Chisholm). The uniform reflects what Inverness-shire were wearing by this time, the tshako have gone, and it does look like PC Ross is wearing a brand new issue of uniform which fits him properly. (I suspect in the tshako photo, he – like me when I joined the job 69 years afterwards – was initially provided with used uniform from the store cupboard, until one was made for him in due course in the next financial year), The swagger stick or cane is new to me – unless it is a prop provided by the photographer.
Ah, yes, the numbering. He is by now wearing “15”. Why the change? Well, the story goes that at some stage (possibly THIS stage!) in the history of the Sutherland force, an officer from out at one of the far distant stations arrived at HQ in Dornoch, which was a rarity for him. It might have been a Court attendance, or an HMI Inspection, but either way his visits to HQ were few and far between. It was only when he was standing in the Headquarters with other officers that someone noticed that he and another officer were both wearing the exact same collar numbers. Given that Sutherland was a small force in terms of numbers, that may be considered surprising, but given its area and the few occasions when several men were met in the one place, it is definitely possible.
Also, Administration tended to be a little lax in terms of Personnel Records – some transfers were not recorded or were devoid of date, as though input much later and from (fading) memory. It may be that this was the domain of George Bridgeford, who did run a tight ship but was getting old – remember he retired at age 69 in November 1904 – and likely kept much information only in his head. Who needs to keep a list of collar numbers when the whole force only amounts to 15 or 16 (excluding Chief and Deputy). If that WAS the case, then the junior officer would have to change, which would explain the 15 instead of 12.
Following six months at Rogart, Alexander Ross was transferred again, to Durness – about as far as you can go to the North West in Mainland Scotland – before moving again, in April 1908, to Melvich on the north coast. While there, his son Kenneth was born, on 14 January 1912. We will hear more of Kenneth Ross later, which will explain why his father’s career is so detailed herein.
In May 1913 PC Alexander Ross had moved along the coast again to Tongue, before being shifted back to Helmsdale in April 1920. That was to be his final posting, retiring from the service there on 3 August 1937 after 33 years service.
So there the story ends – well no it doesn’t actually.
Chief Constable Chisholm was the first Chief Officer of Sutherland to retire on pension, which he did on 15 May 1933, at the age of 70 years. He had been Chief Constable for 27 of his 50 years Police Service. His departure must have been flagged well in advance, as the Police Committee were able to have his successor appointed prior to his retiral.
Douglas George Ross was the man chosen to lead the Sutherland Constabulary. Despite his Scottish name, he had been born in England, at Ramsgate in Kent on 6 April 1897. After active service with the Royal Scots between 1915 and 1919, he had been appointed to City of Manchester Police in 1920. He then transferred to Edinburgh City Police in 1922, and there rose through the ranks to Superintendent. So, aged 37 years and with 13 years Police Service, he took over at Dornoch on 5th May 1933.
Mr Ross’s family appear to have set some kind of a record in that three members of his family were Chief Constables at the same time. Roderick Ross, Chief Constable of the City of Edinburgh, from 1900 to 1935, was Douglas Ross’s father. Douglas’s brother was Donald Ross, who was Chief Constable of Argyll from 1927 to 1961. Roderick Ross CVO CBE KPM (24 May 1865–6 March 1943) ncidentally bore a remarkable resemblance to King Edward VII, and was born at West Helmsdale, the son of a crofter and grandson of a Chelsea Pensioner evicted from the Strath of Kildonan.
Note: There is NO relationship between this family of Rosses and that of PC Alexander Ross referred to earlier.
Douglas Ross continued as Chief Constable for 29 years, when he retired and took his pension on 5th April 1962, the day before his 65th birthday. Plans were already afoot to merge the Sutherland Constabulary with its neighbouring Force, Ross & Cromarty, to form the Ross & Sutherland Constabulary. Despite that, recruitment of a replacement Chief Constable went ahead.
Where other such instances have arisen in recent times, such a situation has not have been permitted, and ad interim the Deputy Chief Constable would be appointed Acting Chief Constable for the period up until amalgamation. This could not happen in Sutherland, since Inspector (and DCC) Thom would retire on 1 November 1962, on reaching the age of 60.
The County of Sutherland appointed Kenneth Ross, BL, as its last Chief Constable, and he took up his appointment with effect from 6 April 1962. He went on to be the first (and only) Chief Constable of the Ross & Sutherland Constabulary, when that new force was formed on 16 May 1963.
When that Force in turn was merged with its neighbours on 16 May 1975 to form the present Northern Constabulary, Mr Ross became Assistant Chief Constable of the new Force until his retiral in January 1977.
Mr Kenneth Ross, who had served in the Renfrew & Bute Constabulary where he reached the rank of Detective Chief Inspector, was ‘coming home’ when he moved to Dornoch as Chief Constable. A ‘son of the nick’, his father was none other than Constable Alexander Ross, who had served as a Constable in Sutherland between 1904 and 1937, and whose career is detailed above.
Kenneth Ross studied law while working in the Sutherland County Council Offices in Golspie as a young man, before going to Renfrewshire to join the Police. He completed his studies in his own time, but chose to remain in the Police service rather than accept a call to the bar.
Sutherland’s Constabulary had grown considerably from its original eight men who made up the new Sutherlandshire Constabulary on 16 March 1858, and to whom George Bridgeford became Sergeant and Deputy Chief Constable (then the only promoted rank apart from the Chief) four years later. The Force had grown in just over a century to an authorised strength in March 1963 of 35 officers:
Chief Constable, 2 Inspectors, 7 Sergeants, 24 Constables (male); and 1 Policewoman. That establishment was authorised early in 1963, and is a marked increase compared to the actual disposition of the Force as at 31 December1962. Then there was only a total of 25 officers of all ranks (all male).
1858 – 1862 – 1904 – 1937 – 1962 – 1977 – 2003 ……… how time flies!